Only the aticlonados are aware that in addition to their eleven famous operetta Gilbort and Sullivan collaborated on three other works that were comparatively unsuccessful when produced. None of the three has been recorded, and they are almost never produced, so the music has remained unfamiliar to even the most fanatic Savoyard.
The Peabody Players, who have been performing the old operetta standbys for years, did a valuable service last week by presenting "Utopia Ltd.," reputedly the best of the G. and S. black sheep. It was immediately evident that the reason the piece has been kept off the boards is not that its music of lyrics are inferior. Like the other operettas, "Utopia Ltd." has an internal mood all its own, closest perhaps to "The Gondoliers," the team's preceding production. Here are all the excellences of the great team; the unflagging whimsy, the astounding rhymes, the catchy and truly lyrical music.
But this operetta goes a lot further than any of its predecessors. "Utopia Ltd." has been unpopular since its first night in 1893 because it is just about as satiric as a light opera can be. Instead of attacking such innocent clay-pigeons as the nobility or Oscar Wilde or Tennyson, Gilbert allows his tricky verses to bite into the touchy and important phases of modern life. The hypocrisy behind commercialism in modern government and behind sexual morality is hit hard in this work about a utopian isle that tries to become anglicized. The king sends his daughters to be schooled in England, and they return paragons of virtue, "Extremely modest (so we're told), Demurely coy--divinely cold." They bring with them six "flowers of progress," Englishmen representing their country's rise to perfection, and including a company promoter and a county council member. The plot is simpler than that of any other Savoy opera, and since the attacked hypocrisy is still present, the work is a lot timelier than the others.
The Peabody production was vigorous, though imperfect; all in all excellent for an amateur group. The pity is that the D'Oyly Carte, presently in New York and hoped-for in Boston, does not add "Utopia Ltd." to its repertory. But perhaps the oldtimers are still wary, believing that their black sheep will he as unpopular today as it was fifty-five years ago.